Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Gratitude: two quotes

leaves reflected in water

leaves reflected in water

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.
— Cicero

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
— Aesop

The power of gratitude

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Feeling dissatisfied is an entrepreneur’s occupational hazard.

We make a lot of progress by noticing what’s wrong — what need is going unmet for our prospective clients, what opportunity is going begging, what improvement is possible? While noticing what’s not right leads us to opportunities, chronic dissatisfaction wears on our spirits.

Adopting practices that create a grateful attitude is a powerful stress-reducer. For several years I have kept a small notebook in which I have recorded successes large and small, all the things for which I am grateful, recording things daily or weekly. I often recommend this practice to my clients as well.

It turns out that science is confirming what philosophers have known for ages. Calling gratitude the “forgotten factor” in happiness research, two researchers have been studying gratitude’s effect on well-being. Their findings include:

* In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

* A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

* A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.

* Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.

* In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.

Reconstructed house at Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA

Reconstructed house at Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA

The Plymouth Pilgrims set us a good example. As the Thanksgiving holiday draws near in the United States, let’s pause a moment to consider all the things for which we may be grateful. Record some of yours by leaving a comment here.

Planning: Taxonomy Relief

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Plans, like water, work best when they flow.

In a cascade, the overarching vision informs the mission, which feeds the goals, which translate into action steps. In information management, this is known as a taxonomy cascade. The logical connection from broader classifications to more specific ones makes clear for both the “big picture people” and the detail-oriented ones what the team is aiming for and how it intends to get there.


Confusion enters when people use words differently — is the vision the biggest thing, or just an intermediate one? Is a goal different from an objective? What’s the difference between a vision and a mission?

The taxonomy can be simple or complex. There are plans that include eight or more steps in the taxonomy cascade, for example:

Purpose > Vision > Mission > Goals > Objectives > Strategies > Tactics > Tasks

Military plans represent some of the most complex plans known to humanity, from the big vision (create a French empire that spans all of Europe) to the intermediate goals (conquer Russia) to the strategies that make it possible (undertake the first modern mass conscription) all the way down to the tasks (start marching east).

For most smaller organizations, I find a five-step plan usually works well. Here’s the taxonomy cascade I suggest most often:

Vision > Mission > Goals > Strategies > Tasks

What do the terms mean? Here’s a way of thinking about plans that I find useful.

Vision: You may never reach this happy state, but it is your beacon, the situation you are forever moving toward. No numbers yet. And no time limit – it may take forever.

Mission: What do your customers expect of you every time they interact with you? What do you promise to provide?

Goals: These are usually measurable. They have to do with numbers of clients, hours, dollars, percentages. They also have time limits.

Strategies: How will you reach those goals, above? You could meet your revenue goal by selling a million things at $1 or one thing for $1,000,000. You could focus on high-quality or low-cost. You may reach for C-level executives or mid-level managers or the millions of people who make up the bottom of the pyramid. Which will it be?

Tasks: What are the steps needed to carry out the strategies you chose? What will happen this year? How – and by whom! – will those strategies be executed?

As you create your plans, make sure that each step is connected to those above and below. Check for internal consistency. Make it flow.

(Art: Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, 1801, now in the museum at Malmaison, image courtesy of Wikipedia. I have donated to Wikipedia; if you have found Wikipedia valuable as I have, I encourage you to consider supporting them, too!)

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